A good sushi restaurant will offer appetizers and entrees that stimulate not only your taste buds but also your other senses. The sushi bar offers that important visual element, as it invites guests to watch the chef, who is in many ways an artist.
When I visited the Sushi Garden on an extra-busy Sunday night, the servers and chefs were hard-pressed to meet such artistic standards, yet they came through with flying colors.
Located at the Overlook Shopping Center, the Sushi Garden serves fusion sushi, a non-traditional style that playfully combines the tastes of many cultures. The menu reflects that exploration of tastes and textures, from the Ika Sansei appetizer containing marinated squid with seven types of Japanese fern, to the Italian Stallion—hamachi, nuts, gobo (burdock root), tuna, avocado and basil.
I saw one category of sushi I hadn’t seen listed on a menu before: the Gunkan (“battleship”) sushi, named because of its boat-like shape.
I ordered one of the “signature” sushi dishes, Dr. Woo’s Wonder, and my friend, Michael, ordered a tsukemono appetizer (pickled vegetables), a natto roll (containing fermented soy beans) and the salmon skin hand roll. While we waited, our server gave us a small glass bowl piled high with salted edamame (fresh soy beans in the pod) and poured us green tea in beautiful ceramic cups.
In the meantime, we watched the two sushi chefs at the bar as they tackled a barrage of orders that seemed to leave all of the staff slightly breathless. In fact, we had a fairly long wait for our orders to arrive, which was understandable.
Mindful, the server brought us a second round of edamame and more tea. Later, one of the chefs took a few seconds of his valuable time to hand us—free of charge—a dish of delicately fried gyoza (meat and vegetable dumplings) with a spicy sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds and chives. I was famished, so it was much appreciated.
But our wait was rewarded: The tsukemono contained a colorful and artfully arranged variety of pickled vegetables—radish, carrot, onion and a purple vegetable that I suspect was eggplant—each having its own distinctive piquant taste, ranging from sweet and tart to mildly salty.
Michael’s natto roll contained fermented soybeans, wrapped in sushi rice and nori seaweed, and sprinkled with chives. Natto is not a commonly ordered dish in the U.S. because of its unusual texture—not unlike that of melted cheese—and strong taste, so we were pleased to find it on the menu.
In Japan, natto is considered to be good for your health. The texture was creamy, with a sharp, fermented taste, neither too mild nor too strong. Michael thought it was very good, overall. He also enjoyed the salmon skin roll, hand-rolled in nori seaweed to the shape of a cone, with generous helpings of long strips of crisp salmon skin, cucumber and other vegetables, as well as rice.
My “signature roll,” Dr. Woo’s Wonder, was, in fact, a wonderful combination of mild and spicy, creamy and bright tastes. It contained tender hamachi (young yellowtail) and albacore, avocado, green onion, garlic and basil. A spicy mayo was drizzled over the roll. I found it delightful—truly a fusion of tastes and cultures.
The traditional lunch and dinner entrees of the more familiar tempura, teriyaki, noodle and sukiyaki dishes should also be worth a sampling. But the sushi and sashimi provides the standard. With a creative fusion of tastes and textures, and attention to artful details, your dining experience at Sushi Garden will be memorable.
1441 Main St. in Watsonville and 820 Bay Ave. in Capitola.
Watsonville hours: Open daily, 11:30-2:30 p.m. (lunch) and 5-9:30 p.m. (dinner).